4 Chicks at the Cape

I’ve been a goner for an elbow shaped piece of land called Cape Cod since I was 6 years old. It’s always been my happy place. I’m pretty sure, that in less than 5 minutes of meeting me, you’d know more than you ever wanted to know about it. I dragged my husband, who didn’t quite get the attraction, there many times but only in the last few years of our travels did he come to see what drove my addiction. In fact, he fell a little in love himself but our last trip 3 years ago never got a rerun. He died A few short months later.

Last week I finally paid a return visit to ‘my Cape’.  I’m not sure if my four widow friends decided to share the trip to help celebrate my milestone birthday or see if the island lived up to my constant hype. I was just pretty darn grateful to cross that Sagamore Bridge again and in whirlwind few days, I was hellbent to leave no shell or lobster roll unturned.

“The waves of the sea, help me get back — to me.”

As a fresh-faced little kid, the trek from New Jersey to the Cape took a whole lot longer than it does today. In the wee hours of the morning, my father would stealthily carry me and my brother’s (nearly) sleeping forms into our spiffy green station wagon. Edging into the early morning darkness, my dad naively hoped we’d sleep until the sun came up over the Cape landscape. Um, no. Before we ever hit Boston, (the route of the ‘old days’) he’d hear a chorus of “are we there yet” and “I’m hungry.” My mother doled out snacks to hold us over, but there was no way to hold back our excitement. My parents were doomed.

Back in the day, utopia was a small group of weathered shingle cottages, complete with shuffleboard and concrete pool, nestled in a copse of towering pines. Even without air conditioning, we slept like hibernating bear cubs in open-window bedrooms, cooled by scented nights. I can still picture Nancy Drew mysteries and games of Old Maid on the beach. Our stubby feet ran along seemingly endless low-tide beaches and I can still see my father’s surprised face as he tasted his first (and last) spoonful of Indian pudding. Far from the creamy concoction he envisioned, the sturdy cornmeal dessert was an epic fail. Luckily, my brother and I opted for ice cream.

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Costeau

Friday night tradition dictated strolls along Hyannis’ Main Street, past an endless booty of gift and candy shops. Not one ever bask in the sun now, my rosy childhood skin is imprinted in my memory. Decked out in a gaudily colored swim tube and bathing cap (yes, I did), I paddled contently in the Cape’s salty Atlantic waters; the same waters that churned up boxes of multi-hued taffy. Once, in that said tube in Cape Cod Bay’s calm waters, I had the brilliant idea of raising both hands up, happily waving to my parents. Wrong move. When I found myself looking UP at the water, too stunned to register that oh, yeah – I’m going to drown, you could say I was a little confused. Luckily, my visit to Davy Jones Locker was shortto tell the tale.

“Heaven seems closer in a little house beside Cape Cod Waters” Beverly Baldwin

With time, my Cape Cod story only becomes richer, more colorful and probably more annoying to those who consistently hear it.  There was, and still is, something immensely magical about the dollhouse-like homes draped with rambling roses, framed with picket fences and fragrant pines.  I can’t get enough of its stunning coastal magic. From the sandy lanes, and windswept rolling dunes of Provincetown to the Lower Cape’s marshes, cranberry bogs and beaches that stretch for miles, Cape Cod is wonderland to me. (unabashed plug) And the lobster, oh, the luscious lobster.

Through the years my tastes changed as my household did. From being one of four to having three of my own little Cape Codders, the island has always meant ‘family’ to me. It just changed hands. The crazy kid, who ran barefoot through pine needles with an ice pop, was suddenly the grownup riding herd on beach passes, wet towels, and pails of hermit crabs. Yuck. I kept blankets stacked and ready for Wellfleet drive-in nights, shovels for sandcastles and change for endless games of mini-golf. But few things can still compare to the prehistoric awe of watching an enormous whale breeching deep Atlantic waters or seeing your kids scale the sand dunes of Provincetown, like clones of Lawrence of Arabia.

“If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air; quaint villages here and there, you’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.”  Anne Murray

Somewhere along the Route 6 line — it happened. My adult eyes began to appreciate the real beauty of the place; the reason it has always been a fierce passion. I saw beyond the typical beachy trinkets to the periwinkle blue hydrangeas that somehow would never grew beyond flowerless stalks in my own yard. I stood in awe of the stark calm of beaches that stretched wide with sandflats where the tides went out as far as the eye could see. Away from the oceanside tee-shirt shops and clam shacks, I now saw with clarity, tree-lined lanes that live in quiet beauty. Who knew sea captains’ houses, lolling fishing boats, and lush, charming lanes would be my jam? Sometime in my grownup years, the take-your-breath-away wonder of this seaside oasis sneakily settled in for good and each time I visited, the finally matured-me felt like I was truly home. As years went by, I became intoxicated by the creativity of the place that drenched every part of the island. It seemed every pinecone, foaming wave, cranberry field and bobbing sailboat came vibrantly alive. My transformed self was slowly drawn to a different Cape, an authentic, priceless treasure, born of the sea.

In the movie, “A Year At The Sea”, an empty-nester takes a solitary, year-long odyssey to Cape Cod. Based on the NY Times best-selling memoir by Joan Anderson, the film shows a woman who rediscovered herself in a place where she could embrace the ebb and flow of life. “I’m beginning to think that real growing only begins after we’ve done the adult things we’re supposed to do,” exclaims Anderson. I believe becoming a widow is a pretty damn adult experience so I think we all qualify for the real growing part. But I also suspect the most powerful words lay in the book’s title subhead . . . “An Unfinished Woman”.

“The Cape is the best part of my entire year”  Ashley A.

A sense of reflection, serenity and yes, rediscovery are also part of the Cape’s siren call. Maybe your vacation mecca is the Outer Banks or a beautiful Florida shore but whenever my mind wanders, it ends up in Cape Cod. No contest. In these last 3 years, since that guy of mine died, reverie was all I could manage. I hadn’t been able to scale the emotional bridge to return where two made memories as well as the literal bridge over Buzzard’s Bay. This girl has an annoying habit of falling asleep at the wheel.

Crossing that famed canal last week with my friends was bittersweet. We stayed in new digs, explored new restaurants, and made new memories. To say we shared both laughs and tears would be an understatement. Watching seals chase fishing boats right up to the pier we stood on or wandering the sands and grasses of the peaceful bay, I drank in ‘my’ island and the friendships that allowed me to see it once again. We four widows, who know too well the excruciating absence of one who ‘floated our boat,’ helped each other breathe in a new chapter of life.

And the boomer kid returned to the shores of her childhood because no one loves a succulent lobster roll more than a Cape Cod-addicted wash ashore.

My story isn’t finished.

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